Though not everyone has made the move yet, more churches are live streaming than ever before.
Some online video platforms (OVPs) reported not just an increase but a multiplication of church live streams when COVID-19 started. If you’re reading this, you have either made the move to streaming your services, or you’re highly considering it.
Few have everything figured out. There are quite a few churches who are working on their live streaming experience without truly knowing what they’re doing. In this case, what you don’t know can certainly hurt you. There are opportunities to consider and pitfalls to avoid. These pitfalls could even result in your stream getting interrupted or blocked from major outlets (think Facebook and Youtube) if you’re not careful.
At ALTA, we get it. Going from 0 to 60 in live streaming is a complicated endeavor. There’s a lot to figure out, even for the technically gifted. Even churches who have technical staff still have a lot to learn before their stream is successful, because the technical details are so different.
Additionally, there seems to be a limitless universe of options for your stream. There are multiple choices of cameras, video switchers, soundboards, and video encoders. There’s also a multitude of hosting platforms that want your business, some of which don’t actually deliver on all of their promises. Additionally, churches have to decide on a true live stream, a simulated live stream, video on demand (VOD), or a combination.
It can all feel a bit overwhelming, but have no fear! We’re going to talk about why you should implement or improve your live stream, and discuss some of the things you need to know before you start.
Why You Should Begin Or Upgrade Your Stream
Let’s start with why before we get to how. There are plenty of reasons for you to consider, and none of them are going away.
First, there’s pandemic. This is an obvious one, but it still has far-reaching implications. In late March to early April, searches for church live streams increased 7x! In the months since, the number of searches began to drop, until they leveled out in August. Today, searches for church live streams are 2 times more common than before this all started.
It’s true that the world is never going to be the same. Both immuno-compromised people and their family members will not be comfortable with unnecessary public outings for years to come, if ever.
Second, the live stream enables you to reach congregants who normally come but can’t. They could be sick or injured. They could be traveling for work or vacation. They could be a college student who recently moved but still wants to be a part of your community. They could be people whose work schedule has shifted to conflict with your services but want to remain connected. These are all good reasons to live stream, as well as offer some form of video-on-demand, which we’ll talk about more in a minute.
Third, a live stream expands your audience to those who’d never step foot in your building. Less than half of Americans regularly attended in-person church pre-pandemic. In the Millennial generation, 80% don’t attend church and 35% are actively anti-church. These stats mean that the vast majority of people in your community feel at least some discomfort with going to a church building. A live stream is a way for somebody to experience your worship and teaching without the social anxiety that may come with it.
Finally, a live stream could make the difference in reaching the next generation. Members of Generation Z are digital natives. Most members don’t know what it’s like to have no high-speed internet connection. The next generation watches twice as many live streams as the generation before it, and most teenagers watch multiple hours of video content every single day.
Regardless of your opinion on technology use, the internet has become its own mission field and the front line of the battle for the next generation.
If you’ve decided it’s time to think about starting or upgrading your church’s stream, here’s some important information.
5 Things You Need To Know About Live Streaming
1. Licensed music could get your stream pulled.
Many churches play licensed music during their walk-in/walk-out moments, or even at set times during the service such as mingling or announcements. However, the rules for using pre-recorded songs–like what you would play from Spotify or Apple Music–are much more strict for live streams. Many churches have seen their stream taken down mid-service for playing licensed music they didn’t have rights for.
2. Your Internet connection strength may not be strong enough.
Internet connection strength is measured as megabits-per-second (Mbps) in two categories: Download, and upload. When you’re watching a stream, or scrolling through social media, most of the information is being downloaded to your device. When you’re sending a message or sharing a photo, the information is being uploaded. Upload speeds are always much lower than download speeds, with many as low as 1.0 Mbps.
A church live stream requires a strong upload connection (think 3-7 Mbps depending on the video quality), which many churches don’t have. You need an internet service that can support your stream, otherwise, it will lead to choppiness, buffering, or even failure.
Do a little bit of research into the upload speed that you need, and then test your connection with your fastest phone or computer. Keep in mind that an ethernet connection will be much more reliable than Wi-Fi for consistent speeds.
If it’s too slow, consider speaking to your internet service provider. You could get a business-grade fiber line for your church. For maximum stability, it’s possible to get a connection solely for your live stream.
3. You will need a video encoder.
For reliability, you should highly consider a video encoder. For advanced production (multiple audio and video inputs), you will need to run your stream through an encoder. This is a piece of hardware that takes the inputs you give it and translates everything into one stream. You want to make sure that you are sending a consistent and high-quality stream to the destination.
Some video encoders also enable you to do a pre-recorded, or simulated live stream. You can upload a video file to the encoder and program it to send it at certain times. This could give you an opportunity to improve the video or audio quality before Sunday morning rolls around.
4. You should consider subscribing to an Online Video Platform (OVP)
Many churches live stream solely through Facebook and/or Youtube. These are not bad options, but they are also not optimal. They don’t necessarily come with reliability and support, and there are a ton of features you could be missing out on. Many top churches use an OVP and multiple destinations for maximum reach.
An OVP is a platform for hosting video content. There are general-purpose OVPs and ones built specifically for church streams. Shop around for one with your preferred features, such as chat, built-in Bibles, scheduling and messaging automation, and analytics.
Regardless of the OVP you go with, they must, must, must use a Content Delivery Network (CDN). These networks will make the stream much more consistent and reliable for your congregation. There’s no need to fully master the concept, just make sure that the OVP you’re looking at talks about their CDN somewhere. It could save you a world of pain!
One very important option is Video On Demand. VOD is what it sounds like: It’s a place where your video content (worship services, devotionals, bible studies, sermons, etc.) can be viewed on-demand. VOD makes it so that people who can’t watch your service live can still experience it later. It also enables small groups to go through specific content during their preferred time of the week. Consider whether you want VOD and then select equipment and platforms that allow it.
5. You need to choose the right gear.
Every category of tech equipment (Audio, visual, lighting) has gear specifically suited for filming as opposed to in-person production. Many churches employ a mix of equipment to best serve both people in the big room and people in their living room.
To start, you will need at least a microphone and a camera. For improved online audio, many churches use a separate console or suite of plug-ins for their auxiliary audio output. In order to establish multiple camera angles, they need a video hub and video controller. Additionally, many churches use a specific software application as a streaming interface. Some also use separate display software or plug-ins to use graphics built for online viewing.
In other words, it’s a huge, wide world, and it’s difficult to get the right answers on what you really need. There are tons of new terms like OVP, CDN, VOD, and Mbps. It can all sound confusing and overwhelming.
That’s why we at ALTA want to offer you an easy consultation, completely free-of-charge. We’ll talk with you to determine where you are at with streaming, where you want to go next, and recommend the perfect gear for your situation! We exist to set up your next win.